Who Stole My Diwali?


Diwali has always been my favourite festivals especially, as a kid growing up in Delhi. It was a festival that came just at the perfect time in the calendar no matter which way you looked at it.  It was the much needed respite from school, weather-wise it signaled the onset of winter, it meant a lot of dry fruits being passed around (a novelty if you belonged to a middle class family), new clothes for everyone, the whitewash, the putting up of lights, the rationed fire-crackers, mother spending hours in the kitchen making some traditional sweetmeats and of course all the mithai that came in from outside!  Everything about the festival was bright and bordered opulent; middle class family remember?!

This year unlike any other year in my life none of the gift boxes that we received contained any dry-fruits or even mithai!  I know as a recipient its bad manners to complain about the gifts that one has received.  It obviously is the “givers” prerogative. But seriously not one box containing dry fruits or mithai??!!!

Marketers, yes my own tribe,   have over the years stolen Diwali.  They have used the all the vile and guile in the 4Ps to rob me of my Diwali.  The beautifully packaged gift boxes containing products from the slow moving inventory pile.  Delightfully priced combo offers on the run of the mill placed conveniently in the ever accessible department store or online. Finally promoted with messages on various media with emotional and economic innuendos.

The days when one went to the Lajpat Nagars and Karol Baghs of the world to buy dry fruits in bulk had been replaced a decade ago by the enterprising business who made the assortment packs in fancy baskets and partitioned cardboard boxes wrapped in transparent colour paper.  One let that pass because as one giving the gift it took away the pain of making packages at home and as a recipient the assortment brought in even the more expensive hitherto untried varieties of dry fruit into the household.

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Some wise guy or guys came up with the idea of why Diwali joy should be restricted to sweets alone and over time combo packs or gift packs full of “namkeen” corrupted the Diwali gift boxes.  Not to be left behind the fruit juice folks jumped on to the bandwagon.  Suddenly, dry-fruits and mithai were vying for space and attention.

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Buying sweets from the neighbourhood mithaiwala was one of the joys of Diwali. The mouthwatering array could melt the strongest resolve.

Buying sweets from the neighbourhood mithaiwala was one of the joys of Diwali. The mouth-watering array could melt the strongest resolve.

Visiting one of those big pandals put up for Diwali by your neighbourhood “ABC Sweets” and buying the different kinds of mithai was such a ritual. The chena murgi, the kaju katli, the smaller dry gulab jamuns and rasgullas and scores whose name doesn’t matter but you would try out.  All gone!  This year I didn’t need to lose my patience with the bhaiyya because my boxes weren’t getting wrapped or there was no one to attend to me. A situation that was unimaginable as recently as two years ago.

I guess change hits you when it finally hits and it did this year.  We received an overwhelming number of boxes of chocolate. If you too have been at the receiving end of this chocolate box attack you would have by now realized that there ain’t too much variety. I am bored, my kids are bored and a week after Diwali by refrigerator is still full of boxes of chocolate!

So those of you who are reading this and are amongst people who did send a gift box. You robbed me! You ain’t getting any dry-fruit or mithai from me no more!!

3 1/2 Signs of Lazy Marketing

Lazy MarketingNo less than a dozen brands are vying for the consumer’s attention every waking minute of the day. Some pleading, some enticing and yet others imploring him to give them space and preference.

In such a situation, brands and even more importantly those managing these brands need to work extremely hard for their communication to register. Despite being aware of the acute attention deficit some marketers go ahead and release sub-par communication, products and sub-optimal support.

Now one may argue that effective marketing need not necessarily be intelligent but it sure needs to be hard working. It cannot be denied that marketing must eventually end up moving the needle as far as a brand’s awareness, recall, preference, premium, profits, share etc. are concerned.

Often though marketing managers fall into the trap of creating a go to market plan simply because there must exist one.  Succumbing to the pressures of fighting the competition, maintaining the share of voice, launching with full aplomb, keeping the channel partners satisfied do tick box but this approach is what breeds “Lazy Marketing”.

So here are 3 ½ signs of Lazy Marketing to watch out for. They might not exactly be as fundamental as the 4P’s but they are a good set of lead indicators if you are in the planning phase.

No1Bigger, better, faster, more

If a product is just about being bigger, better, faster, more as compared what competition has to offer then you know that there is little differentiation involved. So if you hear better mileage, smoother ride or larger, brighter display you know!

No2Pricing Paralysis

Most marketers seem to have forgotten about using pricing as lever. If ever they do it’s a defensive move which more often than not says “Hey I am not really sure if my product is better than the other guy, but I am lower priced”. When they do price higher they go on a justification trip. Pricing should signal value and if it doesn’t someone is being lazy.

No3Feeding the Fad

Let’s face it there are only so many ways of doing things and innovation is a stranger who comes into town very rarely. But the worst thing all of us as marketers can do is feeding the fad.  Can’t come up with a good activation “Let’s do a flash mob”. Want to get some consumer interaction going “Let’s get people to post selfies!” Ideas do not need to be novel nor do they need to be in vogue, they need to relevant.

 And now for the ½ sign

No3half Leave it to the celeb

Marketers must work hard if they want to get this piece right. Yes the decisions get made based on the wisdom at their disposal but never ever should a product or brand allow itself to be carried by a celeb.  History is replete with examples that shout out “If the product isn’t great or the story is weak the celeb cannot do it for you.”

Another Brick in the Wall: The Branding of Education

AnotherBrickThere have been brands and then there have been BRANDS. There are those about which books are written, around which theories are propounded and then there are those that people just desire. The brands that are meant for few. Their very distance is what increases their appeal. The harder to own the more desirable they are.

These brands span industries and product/service categories. From diamond to a perfume, clothing to cars categories have a brand that is to die for. What all of them bring with them is a pride of association.

The business of education is no different. There are universities, colleges and schools that are brands.  We must have, as students, parents, employees, entrepreneurs, friends we have always looked up to, been in awe of, given better treatment to people because of their alma mater.

If you step back, these are brands that have been built on performance. Over time as more and more alumnus of these institutions succeed the higher they climb. The other parameter also has been how easy or difficult it has been to become a part of these brands. More than any other thing the respect for these institutions emerges from the knowledge that only the capable are deemed deserving. This perhaps is the fundamental premise on which the promise of delivery rests.

A recent conversation with friends over dinner brought to the fore how the parameters of assessment have changed. The reference of course was to schools in and around the capital city. If you are a parent trying to get your child admitted into school or have undergone the process (read trauma) in recent years you will have your strong views about it too.

The opposing arguments in the debate rested on performance on one side and promise on the other. Now perceptions can be founded on either. This is where branding comes in I suppose.

There have and will always be top ten lists and rankings based pretty much anything ranging hearsay to actual surveys. We may choose to use or trash them but sure as the sun shines we seldom ignore them.  Unfortunately, in the Google age they are the chosen method of settling an argument.

Several “world” schools and “international” schools have come up in and around Delhi in the past 10 years or so. There are quite a few that get counted amongst the finest and the best. Brands in their own right. Brands that are desired. Brands that signal the formation of a new order.

The founding pillars of these brands (institutions) are not past performance. Truth be spoken they have hardly been around long enough to establish a track record or to claim their share in the greatness of the alumni. Yet they are desired. What then is the formula for their success?

A professor once told me this and it stuck. Brands can be made desirable or aspirational by pressing any or all these levers that drive brand perception.

Product: Brands that become aspirational not on their steam but the virtue of the product itself. Example brands producing diamond jewelry.

Process: Brands that create products or services with the help of a unique ingredient or exclusive process. The “Nobody does it the way we do” promise. Example The Rolls Royce, A Breitling watch, Häagen-Dazs ice-cream.

Performance: Brands that deliver in the superlative space putting them at the top of the heap because not many can match the performance. The first, the fastest, the widest, the best…in short superlative. Example super luxury automobiles

Premium: Well it’s not just the price that we are talking of here it is anything extra even the wait.  Typically it is an associated P and a brand that has any of the P’s mentioned above as its rai·son d’être would automatically attract a premium.  However, there have been examples of brands that have relied on a premium alone to drive the perception of superior quality. The service industry has a few examples in restaurants and spas that rely on pricing themselves high to drive the perception of exclusivity.

Question is as the new world schools lay their brickwork which one of the 4P’s is driving their desirability? For now though, it doesn’t seem to be performance.

As Einstein said Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.